Licensing Career Stories: Stephanie Schwartz, Yale

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
I spent 18 years with the NBA before joining Yale. My first job out of college was building the NBA’s footage licensing business. Fun job- it was the height of the Michael,Magic and Larry era. Later, my focus was on television-both here and around the world. As Head of International Programming, I was licensing content – pre-existing content, like NBA games, and also content still to be developed- like custom programming for overseas markets, or sponsored content developed in connection with a specific athlete. When I got to Yale, I had never licensed a t shirt or a hat. But licensing an asset is licensing an asset, and building a brand is building a brand.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
In addition to the usual collaborating with licensees and retailers on our current merchandise portfolio and its distribution, I spend a fair amount of my time overseeing Yale’s global trademark and domain protection strategy. And a healthy portion of each day is dedicated to new business development, which, at the moment, is focused on three areas: international, e- and mcommerce, and new distribution channels. We were the first University to introduce vending machines to sell spirit merchandise, and we are working right now to make our merchandise available through college search websites. What do they say? Go to where your customers are….

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
(Like everybody else……) Shelf Space! We’ve addressed it by shifting resources to augment online distribution, and by being more strategic about which brick and mortar shelf space we pursue, and how we do so.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
It’s a tie between seeing new products that started as an idea in my head come to market, and collaborating with third parties to grow our business. I used to co-produce television programs with 100-odd television networks; working with a licensee and/or retailer to bring a new graphic, a collection, or a sales promotion to life isn’t that much different from producing television. Both take creativity, organization, commitment, and cooperation.

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
First, the continued growth of the role of Asia in our business (our business being collegiate  licensing)– on the ground and online- and second, the speed of the growth of mobile.

What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years?
See above! But with the challenges come enormous opportunity.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
Get your feet wet any way you can. Work for free if you have to on the weekends. Read as much as you can. If you don’t understand something you read, find someone who can explain it to you. Linkedin can connect you to anyone who knows anything about anything, and thanks to Skype, it doesn’t matter where they are. Buy a coffee for smart, nice people who are willing to tell you about their experiences. While they drink, ask lots of questions. Write down or
record their answers (with their permission). Impress them with your enthusiasm. Then stay in touch with them. Smart, nice people are not a dime a dozen. If you meet one, don’t take him or her for granted.

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
Volunteer to offer your expertise to a person or group who specializes in the discipline you want to explore. It doesn’t need to be in your company, or even your industry. Even if you know nothing about their discipline, the right people will welcome the added value you offer. Seek out professionals who are already successful in the area into which you would like to expand, and buy THEM a cup of coffee.